Claudine Kinard Brown

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Director, Arts & Culture Program, Nathan Cummings Foundation • New York, N.Y.

Claudine Kinard Brown describes her career in the fine arts as a “passionate affair” that has enabled her to hone her skills at the Brooklyn Museum, the Smithsonian Institution and now at the Nathan Cummings Foundation, one of the industry’s leading grant-making institutions. She began her career as an art and drama teacher in New York City’s public schools, joining the Brooklyn Museum in 1976 as an educator before advancing to manager of school and communications programs and assistant director for government and community relations. A turning point came in 1990, when she was asked to direct the Smithsonian Institution’s initiative to create a National African American Museum, making her ultimately responsible for opening the renowned center for African American History and Culture. She concurrently assumed the position of deputy assistant secretary for museums, developing policy affecting 13 national arts and humanities museums and presenting their budget requests to Congress.

With a B.A. in fine arts from Pratt Institute and a master’s in museum education from Bank Street College, Brown graduated from Brooklyn Law School in 1985. Her family is “my first community” and her friends are “my wealth,” she says. For inspiration, she turns to Marianne Willamson’s book, A Return to Love, reminding herself that “it is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’ Actually, who are we not to be?”

Brown attributes her professional achievement to her grandmother, Edna Mae Phillips, who emphasized the importance of education and taught her unconditional love; Louise Cason, a retired elementary school teacher who taught her the value of working toward her goal each day; and Carmen Turner, the first manager of the Washington, D.C., Metro System and former undersecretary of the Smithsonian Institution, who taught her the value of advanced preparation and speaking truth to power. If she had the time and money, she says, she would create and manage a foundation to support projects that encourage creativity, justice and innovation.      

—T.G.